Monday, September 28, 2009

André Munzinger: Discernment and Identity Formation

Discerning the Spirits: Theological and Ethical Hermeneutics in Paul. By André Munzinger: Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 140. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, xv + 239 pp., $101.00, cloth.

Discerning the Spirits is a revision of André Munzinger’s 2004 doctoral thesis presented to Brunel University and the London School of Theology under the supervision of Max Turner, which argues that, for Paul ‘spiritual discernment…was dependent on a liberated perception of reality and mature self-understanding’ (xiii). Munzinger teaches at the Institute of Protestant Theology at the University of Köln and argues further that ‘discernment’ is ‘the nerve centre of Pauline thinking’ and functions as a ‘translation of the Christ-event into the particulars of everyday life’ (18). To substantiate his claim his work is divided into four parts. Part 1 (ch. 1) presents a study of discernment that is rightly expanded beyond a mere lexical analysis of diakrinō and dokimazō to include other words related to cognition. Part 2 (chs. 2-4) establishes that which is to be assessed, this includes an analysis of the ‘renewed mind’ (Rom 12:1), the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:16), and Paul’s general epistemic framework, which Munzinger describes as ‘existential theologising’ (98, emphasis original). Part 3 (chs. 5-6) contextualizes the concept of discernment in Jewish and Greco-Roman literary sources and then argues that the agency of the Spirit results in transformed cognitive processes, ‘leading to a more authentic perception of both the self and others’ (160). Part 4 (ch. 7) summarizes his findings related to the role of the ‘mind of Christ’ and its ‘constitutive role in constructing and verifying meaning’ (191); and delineates contemporary theological and ethical implications of his study on transformed cognitive processes (194-96).

Munzinger has provided a helpful study on the interaction of the agency of the Spirit with existing cognitive processes which result in ‘transformed’ decision-making (188). The integrative concept of the ‘renewed mind’ which is equated with the ‘mind of Christ’ or ‘the mindset of the Spirit’; however, appears to function in an overly-individualistic manner and Munzinger’s construct may be critiqued for over-looking the communal aspects of the agency of the Spirit with regard to decision-making (35). In the context of 1 Cor 2:9-3:4 corporate epistemic issues are Paul’s concern and Munzinger’s one paragraph defense of his individualistic approach fails to convince (185-86). Besides, enfolding the communal orientation of Paul into an anachronistic individualistic orientation, Munzinger does not fully address the difference between the ‘renewed mind’ in Rom 12:2 and the ‘mind of Christ’ in 1 Cor 2:16. Specifically, the agency of the Spirit is not evident in Rom 12:2 and Munzinger’s allusion to Rom 8 (147 n. 32) to support his contention for the presence of the Spirit is not argued but simply asserted. Thus, this reviewer is not convinced that the ‘renewed mind’ of Rom 12:2 and the ‘mind of Christ’ in 1 Cor 2:16 are addressing the same cognitive processes.

Munzinger follows a universalistic approach to social identity and understands an ‘egalitarian’ impulse in Paul’s identity forming agenda (176). It is difficult to understand how Paul could be arguing for ‘love’ as that which ‘can level the differences of race, status, and gender’ when in 1 Cor 7:20 he actually argues that each person is to remain in the state in which they were ‘called’. Further, the transformed cognitive processes that Munzinger envisions actually may be employed for the construction of communal identity in the context of difference. William S. Campbell in Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity, argues that unity does not relegate difference (1 Cor 7:20; 12:12-13) but embraces ‘diversity not as a remaining vestige of human sinfulness, but as something perfectly in accord with the mind of Christ’ (94). These two minor issues aside, Munzinger’s volume provides useful information for those interested in Paul’s conception of discernment, pneumatology, or his approach to identity formation within the early Christ-movement. It is an excellent example of cross-disciplinary research providing both theological and ethical insights into the thinking of the Apostle Paul on this important ecclesiological and anthropological topic.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Parables of the Kingdom Audio Lecture

I am still messing around with audio lectures and PowerPoint, here is one I just completed for a New Testament Theology class at the seminary where I teach, so keep that in mind. In other words, there are significant critical issues with which I am aware but are not dealt with in this presentation. Sorry. The presentation is about 30 mins. long.

The original framework and powerpoint presentation built on the work of Brenda Colijn. Here is my bibliography for those that are interested in further study.


Blomberg, Craig. 1990. Interpreting the parables. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.

Campbell, William S. 2006. Paul and the creation of Christian identity. Library of New Testament studies, v. 322. London: T & T Clark.

Dodd, Charles H. 1936. The parables of the Kingdom. Welwyn: Nisbet.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. 1985. The Gospel according to Luke (X-XXIV): introduction, translation, and notes. New York: Doubleday.

Getty-Sullivan, Mary Ann. 2007. Parables of the kingdom: Jesus and the use of parables in the synoptic tradition. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press.

Ladd, George Eldon. 1993. A theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans.

Longenecker, Richard N. 2000. The challenge of Jesus' parables. McMaster New Testament studies. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

Marshall, I. Howard. 1978. The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Snodgrass, Klyne. 2008. Stories with intent: a comprehensive guide to the parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

Witherington, Ben. 1994. Jesus the sage: the pilgrimage of wisdom. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Wright, N. T. 1996. Jesus and the victory of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Warren Carter: Roman Empire and the NT, Part 3

This is the final part of my extensive review of Warren Carter’s book The Roman Empire and the New Testament: an Essential Guide. Part 1 is available here, whilst part 2 may be located here. Chapter seven, “Economics, Food, and Health,” examines the economic realities and negotiation that occurred within the empire; especially in the areas of food, health, and other daily matters. Roman imperial power was expressed through these rather mundane economic and domestic experiences. Carter’s approach to history “from below” is most clearly seen in this chapter, he notes “economic structures were exploitative and unjust.” (p. 101) This conceptual blend serves as the interpretive framework for Carter’s understanding of how early Christ-followers supported, fed, and cared for themselves and each other. Carter argues that, in Matthew, Jesus is editing the dominant script as it relates to wealth (Matt 19:21-29). James, Carter notes, is writing to “a community experiencing significant economic oppression.” (p. 102) He is writing to them to encourage them to trust God for economic viability in the midst of an oppressive economic system. Carter provides a postcolonial, audience-oriented reading of James (pp. 103-5) that coheres well with the details of the letter. In Revelation, communities of faith are addressed concerning their complicity in sustaining certain aspects of the Roman economic system. Carter comes to this conclusion based on an innertexture element from Rev 18 with Rev 2-3. Food is discussed next and Carter evaluates how meals and domestic space supported Roman imperial ideology: “[f]ood was about power.” (p. 109) When the New Testament discusses food, a discourse of power is operative. Food shortages created political problems and the ability to navigate food shortages became a vital political skill. Carter alludes to the possibility that “the impending crisis” in 1 Cor 7:26 referred “to a food shortage.” (p. 111) Winter and Blue have argued for this as well, and there is no reason to doubt that this refers to the famine of A.D. 51. Carter concludes with a short section on health in the empire and notes the prevalence of sickness in the empire argues for understanding “Jesus’ healings and exorcisms” as being “direct confrontations with the effects of Roman rule.” (p. 117) The New Testament writers were aware of the difficulties of daily life in the Roman Empire; however, they were also well aware that the power of the Gospel offered assistance with those same difficulties. Carter’s work in this chapter brings this fact into relief.

Chapter eight, “Further Dynamics of Resistance,” explores three forms of resistance to the Roman Empire as seen in the New Testament: “imagining Rome’s violent overthrow, employing disguised and ambiguous protest, and using flattery.” (p. 120) Earliest Christianity followed Jesus’ command concerning non-violence towards the Romans (e.g., Matt 26:52-53; John 18:36); however, their rhetorical vision still envisioned such a scenario. Paul, in 1 Cor 15:24 argued that God will destroy all empires; this is however, intramural rhetoric. Carter notes “Matthew envisions Rome’s overthrow in 24:27-31 at the return of Jesus.” (p. 122) One of Carter’s most interesting interpretive choices, which is also in his JBL article mentioned in post 1, is that “vultures” translated in v. 28 should be translated as “eagles” and that “Jesus’ coming is ‘lights-out’ time for Rome.” (p. 123) Carter sees similar imagery at work in Revelation and concludes “[t]hese imaginings are the in-group protests of an alternative community, directed against Rome but not made public or expressed openly to Rome.” (p. 128) Carter suggests the earliest Christians also participated in disguised or indirect protest. While it is possible that these protests are there, the nature of their ambiguity and the lack of an objective standard by which to discern their presence require a cautious approach to uncovering this type of protest. Carter’s final approach to resistance focuses on the rhetoric of flattery in Rom 13:1-7. Carter’s solution is somewhat unsatisfying and the existence of a “hidden transcript” in Rom 13:1-7 better explains the nature of Paul’s exceptional rhetoric in these verses. Carter’s work in this chapter provides an insightful introduction into the nature of protestation in antiquity. The existence of accommodation and resistance simultaneously within a community of Christ-followers suggest there is more work to be done in this important area.

Carter’s purpose is to show the reader how early Christians and New Testament writers negotiated the Roman Empire and the chapters in the book are structured around those imperial realities (p. x). This volume fulfills that purpose and meets a vital need for those studying or teaching the New Testament and would serve as an excellent undergraduate textbook as well as for the general public. The Roman Empire is normally treated as part of a cursory survey of background material when discussing the various New Testament communities and their texts. Carter’s work demonstrates that such an approach is unsatisfactory and leads to missing key interpretive frameworks. The presence of the Roman Empire is not a background issue; it is a foreground issue, one that must be engaged for a proper understanding of New Testament texts.

A number of strengths and weaknesses have been mentioned throughout this review; however, one more requires attention. Carter seeks to establish the Roman Empire as the context in which the New Testament unfolds. This fact is indisputable; however, Carter’s work does not fully show that empire-focused questions were central in the mind of the New Testament authors or their auditors. This criticism is often raised when scholars engage in sustained imperial-contextual analysis of the New Testament. Carter is sensitive to this criticism and makes an effort to address theological concerns throughout the book. James Dunn, for example, recognizes imperial-contextual analysis as interesting but secondary to the theological concerns of the authors and their auditors. While Dunn’s criticism is valid, he dismisses imperial-contextual analysis too quickly. Theological concerns in the New Testament; however, are also political concerns, the lack of evidence for sustained discourse concerning the empire is only an argument from silence and Carter’s book while susceptible to these same criticisms does make efforts to correct this short-coming within imperial-contextual studies. Criticisms of Carter’s work are sometimes subsumed under a broader criticism of Richard Horsley’s work; while there are significant similarities between the work of Carter and Horsley, especially in the area of contemporary contextualization of imperial-contextual analysis (e.g., the impact of the United States as an empire). Carter’s work does not establish the same binary relationship between earliest Christianity that is evident in Horsley’s work. He presents a more nuanced approach, one in which the degree of continuity with Roman imperial ideology is given its full textual consideration. This limits some of the broad-ranging conclusions evident in Horsley’s work, however, it makes the conclusions that Carter does reach more plausible. This scholarly restraint and circumspection produces a highly accessible introduction to the Roman Empire during the New Testament times and is recommended for students in biblical, theological, and religious studies.

Part 3 of 3.


Carter, Warren. 2003. "Are There Imperial Texts in the Class? Intertextual Eagles and Matthean Eschatology As "Lights Out" Time for Imperial Rome (Matthew 24:27-31)". Journal of Biblical Literature. 122, no. 3: 467.

Carter, Warren. The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide. Abingdon essential guides. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Warren Carter: Roman Empire and the NT, Part 2

This post continues the review of Warren Carter's Roman Empire and the New Testament which I began in the previous post. Chapter three, “Ruling Faces of the Empire: Encountering Imperial Officials,” describes the nature of the interaction of these early Christ-followers with the various Roman imperial ruling authorities: “emperors, client kings, governors, and soldiers.” (p. 28) Carter looks at seven different references in the New Testament to the emperor. His interpretation of “pay back to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God” (Mark 12:13-17) reveals how a postcolonial, audience-oriented approach to the text can provide brilliant interpretive insights. Carter detects an “unofficial transcript” at work in Jesus’ subversive response to the ruling elites aligned with Rome and argues that “Jesus’ instruction…is a dignity-restoring act of resistance that recognizes God’s all-encompassing claim.” (p. 29) The client kings are seen as unsympathetic figures in the New Testament narrative, the Herodian dynasty, behaving as unscrupulous provincial elites actively resisting God’s work in Judea and Galilee (e.g., Matt 2; Mark 6:14-28; Acts 12:1-5). Jesus, on the other hand, “is presented as a king who represents God’s just and triumphant purposes.” (p. 37) Roman governors were another face of the empire; these individuals were appointed by the emperor or the senate and served as functionaries to assure the proper collection of taxes and the extension of the Roman rule of law throughout the provinces. Carter builds on his earlier work on Pilate, mentioned above, to provide an illustration of the nature of the interaction of a governor over those whom he ruled (Matt 27:11-26). The soldiers were the face of the empire that most people living under the Roman Empire encountered. Carter concludes this chapter with a disconcerting postcolonial insight concerning the pervasiveness of military imagery in early Christian discourse even though Jesus’ instructions forbade the use of violence (e.g., Matt 5:41; 26:53; John 18:36).

Chapter four, “Spaces of Empire: Urban and Rural Areas,” identifies the countryside and cities as spaces of Roman dominance and as places in which negotiation of empire often occurred. This chapter provides an excellent example of the application of critical spatial theory as practiced by Henri Lefebvre and Edward Soja. Space is not an empty partner in the construction and negotiation of identity and Carter looks at how the embedded power discourses were embodied in the material structures of empire. He evaluates how power discourse occurred within the nexus of urban-rural topography and applies these insights to the Gospel communities, the Pauline communities, and the cities in Revelation. Paul’s rhetorical vision for group formation was impacted by the material structures of empire and Carter notes it is not clear if his communities agreed with his vision for communal formation “or preferred other ways of negotiation.” (p. 63)

Chapter five, “Temples and “Religious”/Political Personnel,” continues the critical spatial analysis that was begun in the previous chapter, this time focusing on ritual space, temples, and the nature of Roman religion. Carter begins by correcting the faulty assumption that a public/private binary existed in Roman antiquity. Roman imperial religion was political, corporate, and public. Temples were not seen as isolated religious institutions. They reinforced Roman imperial propaganda, established civic identity, and were tools of political, economic, and social exploitation. Carter evaluates the role that Roman imperial ideology played in the Jerusalem Temple noting Josephus’ remark that "[s]acrifices were offered in the temple for but not to the emperor and Rome" (Josephus, JW 2.416 [emphasis original]). (p. 66) This serves as a good example of the negotiation necessary to maintain Judean identity in the midst of Roman domination. Jesus’ conflicts and teaching concerning the Jerusalem Temple are surveyed and Carter shows how the early Christ-followers experiences, as described in Acts, with the Jerusalem Temple cohered with that of Jesus. Paul’s negotiation of ritual space is evaluated in the context of the temple of Artemis in Ephesus. This section is vital to understanding the nature of civic religion in the Roman east and provides significant insight into the way in which nested-identities were negotiated within the Roman Empire. Carter describes the results of this negotiation suggesting “they [early Christians] must live in this multireligious world, finding their own faithful place in it without necessarily expecting to overturn its civic and imperial structures.” (p. 77) Carter then focuses on the ritual observances within the imperial cult throughout the Roman Empire and discusses the nature of negotiation as seen in 1 Peter and Revelation. Roman religious discourse required significant negotiation within earliest Christianity. Carter, in this chapter, notes three predominate ways in which this negotiation with Roman religion occurred: some early Christ-followers chose opposition, some accommodation, and others possible active participation.

Chapter six, “Imperial Theology: A Clash of Theological and Societal Claims,” discusses the nature of competing claims for supremacy between the propaganda of Roman imperial theology and the claims about God and Jesus. Carter provides an excellent introduction to Roman imperial theology relying, for the first time in this book, on a significant amount of primary sources (e.g. Virgil’s Aeneid, Seneca’s Clem., Tacitus’ Ann., Suetonius’ Vespasian, Statius’ Silvae, and Pliny’s Pan.) these references provide the readers with a sense of the content of Roman imperial theology and is one of the strengths of this book. Rome claimed divine sanction for its empire but the New Testament, Carter points out, directly disputes this central claim (e.g., Rom 1:18-32; 1 Cor 2:8; 8:6). Much of the vocabulary of early Christian discourse contained intertextual elements with Roman imperial vocabulary (e.g., good news, salvation, righteousness, and faith) and Carter notes there is evidence of subversion in some of this discourse (e.g., Rom 13:1-7). (p. 92) Carter then summarizes similar evidence in the Gospels noting that Jesus serves as God’s agent and that his followers are to continue to follow his commands until he returns. This language resonated with Roman imperial ideology and Carter makes a strong case for the need to foreground the political implications of early Christian discourse.

This concludes part 2 of 3.


The Roman Empire and the New Testament: an Essential Guide. By Warren Carter. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006, 148 pp., $16.00, paperback.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Warren Carter: Roman Empire and the NT, Part 1

The Roman Empire and the New Testament: an Essential Guide. By Warren Carter. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006, 148 pp., $16.00, paperback.

Warren Carter teaches at Brite Divinity School. He is one of the leading scholars in the field of imperial-contextual analysis of the New Testament and is an excellent choice for this highly accessible yet substantial introduction to the impact the Roman Empire had on the New Testament. His recent work has focused on the process of interaction between the New Testament communities and the dominant values of Roman imperial ideology. His recent works include: Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2001); Pontius Pilate: Portraits of a Roman Governor (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press/Michael Glazier, 2003); John and Empire: Initial Explorations (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2007); “Are There Imperial Texts in the Class? Intertextual Eagles and Matthean Eschatology as ‘Lights Out’ Time for Imperial Rome (Matthew 24:27-31),” JBL 122 (2003), 467-87; “Proclaiming (in/against) Empire Then and Now,” Word and World 25 (2005), 149-58; and “Matthew and Empire,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 59 (2005), 86-92. Carter’s work is situated within the postcolonial approach to New Testament studies which seeks to read the texts “from below.” His approach also draws upon audience-oriented criticism which seeks to understand how texts were received as they were interpreted by their audience. He skillfully combines these two approaches in this work. Though most of Carter’s work has focused on the Gospel of Matthew, his mastery of the broader New Testament corpus is evident in The Roman Empire and the New Testament.

Chapter one, “The Roman Imperial World,” provides an introductory description of the structure of the Roman imperial system. Carter argues the Roman Empire is ever present in the New Testament and that the New Testament writers are not unified in their approach or evaluation of the empire. He also notes two realities that hinder our understanding of the presence of the empire in the New Testament: the unification of religion and politics in the empire and a general lack of knowledge about the Roman world. The Roman Empire was thoroughly hierarchical and male-dominated. The emperors required military support and alliances with the ruling elites to maintain power. The imperial cult served to further stratify the society and provide a sense of divine approval on the reign of the emperor. Carter notes how elite values supported their hegemonic conception of ruling power and “hierarchical societal structure.” (p. 10) The negotiation necessary to survive as a nonelite was significant and various coping mechanisms emerged, one in particular: “hidden transcripts” (p. 12) were vital to a non-violent form of protest to the inequalities leveled against the well over 90% of the population that were part of the nonelites. Rigid hierarchy and economic disparity were two keys aspects of the structure of the Roman Empire during the Principate.

Chapter two, “Evaluating Rome’s Empire,” looks at how some of the New Testament writers evaluated the Roman imperial system. Carter provides a much needed corrective to the tendency within New Testament studies to homogenize the integration and evaluation of the empire by New Testament texts. There is actually a variegated approach to empire, distinctive of the various authors and the parts of the empire in which their recipients dwelt. Carter notes however there is consistency of evaluations concerning Rome “in relation to God’s life-giving purposes.” (p. 16) This is an important component of Carter’s survey in that imperial-contextual analysis of the New Testament is often somewhat wrongly accused of minimizing theological concerns. The first approach to evaluation Carter suggests is “the empire is of the devil.” (p. 16) This approach understands the Roman Empire as part of the cosmic struggle between good and evil and is seen in the Gospels (e.g., Luke 4:1-13, Jesus’ temptation; Mark 5:1-20, the demon named “Legion”) and the book of Revelation (e.g., Rev 12-13). This evaluation understands no redeeming value in the Roman imperial system. The second approach is “Rome’s world is under judgment.” (p. 18) This is an apocalyptic framework in which the earthly rule of Rome is understood to be passing away (e.g., 1 Cor 2:6-8). The next two approaches foreground the concept of practices that subvert the empire through “acts of transformation” and the establishment of “alternative communities.” (p. 20) These alternative communities may develop alternative economic structures (1 Cor 16:1-4), power relations (Matt 20:24-28), and transformation of the unjust political structures within the empire (Luke 4:18-19a). A final approach emphasizes “submitting to, praying for, and honoring the emperor.” (p. 22) Carter understands this approach as an accommodation to empire (e.g., 1 Pet 2:13-17) and leaves open the possibility “that 1 Peter is encouraging Christian participation in honoring the emperor…while recognizing that their real commitment is to Christ.” (p. 23) Carter weaves an intricate tapestry of strategies of “survival, protest, accommodation, and imitation” within earliest Christianity concerning the Roman Empire and provides a plausible reconstruction of the nature of the negotiation that was occurring within nascent Christian communities.

This is part 1 of 3.

See also:

Carter, Warren. Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading. London ; New York: T & T Clark, 2004.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

William S. Campbell: Paul and Christian Identity, Part 3

This is the final part of my extensive review of William S. Campbell's book Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. Part 1 is available here, whilst part 2 may be located here. Campbell reviews Paul’s use of terms describing Israel and concludes that gentile Christ-followers are not to be confused with Israel. In chapter eight he unpacks the implications of his preferred model, earlier referenced in chapter six, which questioned the views that gentile Christ-followers were either Israel, New Israel, or Israel redefined. Instead, God offers an inclusive salvation to “Jews as Jews and gentiles as gentiles.” (p. 127) The covenant was given to Israel and the gentile Christ-followers may share in the blessings of the covenant through Christ; however, in Campbell’s view it would be incorrect to propose a separate covenant for gentiles. The imagery of the olive tree found in Romans 11:17-18 serves as an integrative metaphor for Campbell through his discussion of Paul’s understanding of Jewish identity, for example: “Only with Israel can gentiles share the richness of the olive-tree.” (p. 137) This chapter provides the reader with a clear understanding of the reasons for needing to maintain separate identities for Jews and gentiles and Campbell provides a cogent analysis of the arguments on both sides of this issue, though often finding himself differing with other eminent Pauline scholars (e.g., E. P. Sanders on covenant, N.T. Wright on redefining Israel, C.H. Dodd on the transfer of election, James J. D. Dunn on gentiles needing to see themselves as Israel, M. Zetterholm concerning the fluidity of ethnicity, and various nuances with Käsemann’s approach throughout the chapter).

Chapter nine serves the purpose of defining the essence of Campbell’s approach to identity formation. Christ-defined identity is one in which an individual’s previous identity is not eradicated but becomes a sub-set or nested identity with the preeminent identity being that which is Christ-defined. This chapter addresses many of the questions and implications that arise from the previous chapters. The key to understanding Campbell’s approach is “the retention of one’s particularity in Christ, whether Jew or gentile.” (p. 156) Because of this approach Campbell realizes that this impinges on Paul’s mission and he notes “Paul therefore is the paradigm for Jewish Christ-identity but not for gentile.” (p. 156) Paul, therefore may not serve as the universal model for all Christians, one can see how this statement could have contributed to some of the problems in the Pauline communities, if he is urging them to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16) and the communities are attempting to do that from a different social location and nested identities, confusion and misunderstanding could have arisen (c.f. 1 Cor 5:9-11). He shares being in Christ but because of ethnic and cultural differentiation Paul remains an Israelite and the Corinthians are not, and this creates a situation where differing identities may be operative in the life of Paul’s community. Campbell is sensitive to his understanding of new creation theologizing and argues for an understanding of 2 Cor 5:17 that allows for continuity with one’s former life and identity, the model for that becomes transformation – which is the topic of the final chapter of the book.

Chapter ten explicates the significance of Paul’s transformational theologizing in which the past is transformed but not obliterated. He rightly notes that the universalizing tendency within systematic theology relates to the decontextualization of Paul’s theologizing. Paul was not developing abstract philosophical-doctrinal statements and to use Paul this way guarantees that one will misunderstand the nature of Paul’s theologizing which was “designed to change people, to transform communal life and to create a Christ-like pattern of life within his communities.” (p. 161) Thus, the concrete social situation is Paul’s starting point, not the development of creedal formulations. Because of this understanding the fronting of Roman imperial ideology is vital to comprehending Paul’s rhetorical intent, that is, what Paul was attempting to do to his auditors/readers. Campbell’s description of the rhetorical function of Paul’s letters may be described as resocialization: “one’s previous life, its culture and its social context are viewed by Paul as the raw material of a transformed existence.” (p. 166) So, for Paul, resocialization serves as the vehicle for new creation identity formation. Paul theologizes from within the symbolic universe of Israel and his communities are thus structured within that universe. Campbell makes a strong case for maintaining a separate identity for Israel and gentiles, recognizing that these two groups are interacting in new ways because of the Christ-event, he concludes that “Christ-following Israelites are the link between the church and Israel” (p. 170). This, in fact, became Paul’s role as he formed his alternative communities throughout the Roman Empire.

Campbell’s work concludes with a bibliography, indices of ancient sources, and modern writers. His work opens up fruitful avenues for further research in the area of identity formation and early Christian origins. This book should be read by Pauline scholars, especially those working in Romans. Campbell’s creativity and ability to sustain an argument makes this work well worth the time invested and provides a much needed perspective in the current debate on identity formation in early Christianity.

My original book review for this work appeared in CTR. So, after reading this, what are some of the weaknesses in Campbell's approach? If his approach is accepted does it call into question historic Paulinism? What scriptural evidence could be marshaled to weaken his argument?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

William S. Campbell: Paul and Christian Identity, Part 2

This post continues the review of William S. Campbell's Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity which I began in the previous post. Chapter three evaluates Paul’s perspective of other missionary movements within the early Christ-movement. He argues for the concept of mutuality between the various leaders of the movement and understands Paul’s challenges to be related to halakhic interpretative differences rather than theological disputes. The Antioch incident is central to Campbell’s argument in this chapter in which he asserts “that in Paul Jewish identity per se is not seen to be in opposition to Christ.” (p. 42) As he reflects upon the Antioch incident a key question emerges concerning the process of identity formation: does theology produce or precede identity formation? Campbell does not follow the contours of Dunn’s argument concerning the ensuing and oppositional mission that emerged after the Antioch incident. Rather, he concludes that the halakhic issues that were discussed in Antioch directly impacted Paul’s future approach to mission and the character of this fledging movement. Campbell next sets out to deconstruct the scholarly image of Paul as a sectarian. He concludes, rather that Paul was a reformer seeking “the renewal of his own people in the new era dawning in Christ.” (p. 47) Based on this conclusion, he argues that Paul never confuses Israel and gentile followers of Christ: both groups remain intact. The image of the olive tree serves as the Pauline metaphor for the new reality in Christ. Campbell further concludes that Paul’s Jewish identity precedes the concept of Christian identity and that “historically and theologically there is no need to locate anti-Judaism in Paul nor to attribute the parting of the ways to his explicit instigation.” (p. 51) His answer to the key question referred to earlier is “identity precedes theology and that in fact theological constructions emerge to solve the problem of identity rather than to create it.” (p. 52) In this chapter Campbell argues for diversity within the early Christ-movement and recognizes that Peter and Paul were not engaged in competing missions and that Paul’s ultimate opponent was Rome and not Judaism.

Paul’s problem in creating gentile identity in Christ was his insistence on their association with Israel and Abraham, while at the same time retaining the status as gentiles, is addressed in chapter four. Paul’s communities often found themselves in-between communities, not fully accepted by the Jewish community nor the broader Greco-Roman society. Campbell’s argument is that there was significant continuity between those cultures and Paul’s communities. For example, these communities still maintained some contact with the synagogue, most likely under the model of the righteous gentile. The scriptures of Israel played a vital role in the development of the Pauline community’s social identity. This opened up the liminal communities of Paul to varying halakahic interpretations. Paul envisioned his communities participating in the Jewish symbolic universe in which the process of resocialization of these gentiles would develop with the identity forming concept of being in Christ. Paul was seeking to transform their Greco-Roman identity, not in “contradistinction” (p. 67) to either Judaism or the broader Roman imperial ideology but with an awareness of what it means to live in Christ and remain gentile.

The Roman imperial context, in chapter five, serves as a corrective to the traditional view that the primary focal point of conflict in the early Christ-movement was between the Jews, Jewish-Christians, and Paul’s communities. The conflicts that existed emerged from the interplay between those categories. Campbell does an excellent job developing a middle-path between the approach of Horsley and his comprehensive political reading of Paul and the historically inaccurate view that Paul’s conflict was primarily with the Jewish community. This chapter relies on the work of Mikael Tellbe and Magnus Zetterholm at various points and Campbell agrees with the findings of these two scholars except on a few key points: for example, Tellbe’s lack of “recognition that the Pauline communities did not constitute the whole of the Christ-movement.” (p. 71) and Zetterholm’s lack of appreciation for the “one-sided” use of Paul in the eventual struggle for separation. (p. 83) This chapter does a fine job in recontextualizing Paul and establishes the significant role that Roman imperial ideology played in the identity formation of the early Christ-followers.

In chapter six Campbell discourages the understanding of Paul being depicted as “the architect of the whole church.” (p. 87) The universalizing tendency in Pauline studies contributes to this faulty understanding; however, Paul’s ethics should be understood as predominately particular in its orientation and not universal. This chapter makes a case for the transformation and relativization of one’s previous identity because of newness in Christ and not its eradication and removal. From this perspective he develops an antithesis between the model of new creation versus his model of transformation and within this model “Paul is the paradigm only for those whose former life was in Judaism rather than for gentile Christ-followers.” (p. 89) Campbell builds his exegetical case from 1 Corinthians 7 and follows, with a few correctives, the work of Anthony Thiselton and is in agreement with him concerning the presence of over-realized eschatology in the Corinthian correspondence. Campbell then shifts his focus to the significance of ethnicity for Paul. He rules out the view that in Paul Jewish identity was considered obsolete for those in Christ. (p. 93) Applying the principles of group formation he argues for the communal nature of identity formation and concludes that several identities were nested among the early Christ-followers. The concept of “one undifferentiated identity” (p. 95) must be rejected at this early stage in the Pauline communities. Based on this conclusion, Campbell evaluates four models for Paul concerning the design of his communities. First, the church as a third race (i.e., not Jew, not Greek, but a new race) is presented and summarily rejected as a model for Christian identity. Next, the church as new Israel which argues that the church has replaced Israel as God’s people is also rejected by Campbell. Different types of displacement theologies reflect poorly on God’s character and credibility. While recognizing that new creation theology is inherent in Paul’s theologizing one must maintain a focus on the role transformation plays in Paul’s theology, as well. The church as redefined Israel is the next model discussed. This view includes gentile believers and faithful Jews as constituting Israel. Campbell’s concern with this view is that it is ultimately “un-Pauline in that he was always careful to distinguish Israel and the nations.” (p. 99) The final view is the one that Campbell will argue in chapter 8: “the church and Israel are related but separate entities which should not be dissolved or merged in such a way that the sub-group identity of the one is lost or unrecognized.” (p. 101)

In chapter seven Campbell seeks to clarify his position on the rhetorical situation and addressees in Romans and begin to apply insights from his study of identity in a concrete way to the book of Romans. He understands Romans to be written to “a mainly gentile Christ-movement [that] was split over the issue of residual patterns of a Jewish way of life.” (p. 105) So, these individuals had been or were still functioning in the Roman-Jewish community. This interaction evidently required a reassessment of their identity and Romans was written to assist these individuals in their evaluation of this situation. In Romans 2:1-16 Campbell follows Esler and concludes that a non-Jew is in view here and Paul is not introducing a negative stereotype of Jews in this passage nor in the broader letter in general and also concludes that there were not problems with judaizers in Rome. The problems in Romans 14-15 were more along the lines of those that naturally arose in a multi-ethnic community, such as Rome, and Campbell concludes that the differences that emerge because of these various identities are to be accepted by the strong without discrimination or distinction because who they are in Christ does not dissolve the other nested identities.

The next post will complete this review of Campbell's work.

Friday, September 18, 2009

William S. Campbell: Paul and Christian Identity, Part 1

Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. By William S. Campbell. London/New York: T & T Clark, 2006 [2008], 224 pp., $120.00, cloth; [$39.95, paperback].

In Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity, William S. Campbell, Reader in Biblical Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter, has produced a wide-ranging and insightful work on Paul’s role in the formation of Christian identity in the earliest period of the Christ-movement. He interacts with the concept of universal Christian identity and concludes this concept is not sufficiently nuanced and argues that particularized identity is more reflective of the realities of the early Christ-movement. The book is well-structured and readable and provides a nice overview of Pauline scholarship as it relates to Paul’s mission and strategy while providing scholars with the necessary material for furthering the discussion. Campbell, editor of the Journal of Beliefs and Values, has reflected and written on the topic of identity formation since the early 1990s in, for example, his monograph Paul’s Gospel in Inter-Cultural Context. His insights are reflective of a seasoned-scholar who does not attempt to over-reach in his conclusions but allows the strength of his arguments and the biblical material to direct the reader to a more precise understanding concerning the nature of early Christ-follower identity. The main text of the book is without typographical errors, though I did note a few omissions in the bibliography. These, however, are extremely minor quibbles in an otherwise well-researched and well-written book that fills a void in the current literature on identity formation.

Campbell immediately narrows the focus of this book to the identity of Jewish people in the first century of the Common Era. He begins by interacting with the constructivist approaches to ethnicity of Jonathan Hall, Fredrick Barth, and Philip Esler, while finding much to commend in their work he opts for a stronger component for the “primordial aspects of ethnicity” (p. 5) when reconstructing their identity because of their status as a minority group and the constitutive role that Roman imperial ideology played on their self-understanding. Campbell understands Paul to be an individual who was not looking to eradicate ethnic distinctions nor encourage gentiles to become Jews. His strategy and mission, however, required “a transformation in the symbolic universe of these peoples in the light of the Christ-event.” (p. 8) This was a proposition, sadly, that was ultimately rejected and that rejection led to two very different paths throughout history. He sees Paul as establishing community within the context of difference. He questions the scholarly consensus concerning equality and the elimination of difference in Christ. Building on the work of Iris Young he calls for an approach that emphasizes “the politics of difference in the contextuality of existence” which ultimately produces “a paradigm very different from historic Paulinism.” (p. 10) This is an apt description of what Campbell is attempting to do in Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. As he proceeds with his study he limits himself to issues directly related to identity and ethnicity. His aim in this work “is not only to consider historical and social aspects of identity, ethnicity, and difference in the first century but to include, in association with these, Paul’s theologizing and the outcome of this in the formation of Christian identity.” (p. 11)

Chapter two evaluates the contemporary scene of Pauline studies as it relates to Jew and gentile relations broadly, and identity formation specifically. He argues that F.C. Baur’s antithetical approach established the trajectory for Pauline studies which led to the vilification of Judaism when compared to Christianity. Campbell sees in W.D. Davies’ comparison of Rabbinic and New Testament documents a more positive understanding of Judaism and an approach which relocated Paul within his Jewish context. Johannes Munck’s work is likewise presented as a reaction to F.C. Baur’s. Campbell notes that one of the main contributions of Munck’s work was the rediscovery of the missionary-eschatological perspective of Paul and his Jewish background, a perspective that was furthered through the work of Krister Stendahl. Next he summarizes the teachings of his former teacher Ernst Käsemann who attempted to modify the Bultmannian understanding of justification in existential terms. He sees Käsemann’s work within a dialectic relationship with Stendahl and provides an informative comparison and contrast of their two views. Käsemann is understood to be defending the Pauline consensus as it relates to justification by faith, even though it is recognized that he has developed and thus emphasized the communal aspects of this doctrine. Sanders and Dunn are discussed in the context of the “New Perspective” on Paul and Campbell while affirming their basic reconstruction of first century Judaism concludes that to a certain degree their work does not really remove the Jewish antithesis from within Christianity and elevates faith in Christ as the primary marker of identity as compared with circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath: which in reality renders these identity markers “superfluous.” (p. 29) Campbell offers a short criticism of the “New Perspective” in the areas of the diversity of first century Judaism, the proper use of parallels from Second Temple literature (e.g., 4QMMT), a reminder concerning the nature of inner-Christian community debates as compared to inner-Jewish community debates, and an important reminder concerning how the history of interpretation of Scripture may adversely impact one’s understanding of the universality of Christianity and the presence of diversity within the early Christ-followers. Campbell’s solution for this dilemma is to re-contextualize Paul’s letters while avoiding unnecessary theologizing and focuses on the actual “realities of Israel and the nations in relation to God” and finally grapples with “the place of Judaism in Christian identity” which, in his mind has not been properly evaluated and researched. (p. 32)
This is part 1 of 3 that will provide a comprehensive review of Campbell's approach to Paul and the formation of Christian identity.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kathy Ehrensperger: Power and Identity Formation

The vital interaction of identity and power is central to the work of Kathy Ehrensperger (2007). The agency of Paul, which is expressed primarily in his teaching role, emerges as he seeks ‘consciously to shape their identity’(2007: 15, 123). Identity formation, for Paul, was not an optional add-on to his teaching but was central to his work among the nations (193). Ehrensperger argues that Paul was in a ‘transformative power relationship’ with the communities he founded, such as the one in Corinth. She argues, however that he exercised power ‘in a differentiated way which cannot be subsumed under’ a Weberian or Foucaultian concept of ‘power-over in the vein of a command-obedience structure’ (155). Ehrensperger builds on the work of Wartenberg who understands transformative power to include both supportive guidance and temporally limited asymmetry; and Arendt’s concept of communicative power as a ‘web of interdependency’ within the correctives provided by both Habermas and Allen (178; cf. 18-9). She understands Paul’s letters to be attempts to empower his communities to ‘act in concert’ with their calling ‘for the enhancement of all’ and shows Paul interacting with them in a way similar to the ‘domination-free communication’ found in the contemporary writings of Wartenberg, Arendt, Habermas, and Allen (178). The program that Ehrensperger lays out is one in which scholars are encouraged ‘to move beyond the command-obedience paradigms of power’ to a more differentiated understanding of the positive dynamics of power in Paul and his writings, that is to say empowerment (178).

Two overarching presuppositions in Ehrensperger’s work on power and its impact on identity formation include Paul’s thorough embeddedness in Judaism and its Scriptures and the all-pervading influence of the Roman Empire (4-11). The implications of these presuppositions include the secondary use of Greco-Roman sources for understanding or explaining Paul’s line of argument (125). Likewise, the realization of the pervasive and pretentious inclination for power and domination within the Roman Empire is understood as the reason for Paul’s desire not to ‘lord it over’ the gentiles (cf. 2 Cor 1:24; Mat 20:25-26a). In her earlier work (2004) she notes in this regard that Paul ‘was teaching in small groups and wrote letters to tiny marginalized communities, thereby using his gospel implicitly to oppose the Roman imperial order’ (141, 157). She concludes, concerning ‘Judaism, with its exclusive loyalty to the one and only God of Israel and the identity-shaping dimension this loyalty had for their way of life, was actually incompatible with these goals of Roman imperial policy’ (2007: 9-10). Paul, however, was no revolutionary; he worked within the Roman system to stabilize his Christ-following communities throughout the Mediterranean basin, while recognizing that because of Christ their doom is sealed (1 Cor 2:6-8).

Ehrensperger follows very closely the particularized understanding of identity evident in the work of William S. Campbell. In critiquing the work of Sandnes she rightly concludes ‘Paul’s and his colleagues’ perception of the gospel did not bypass or in any way obliterate Israel’s identity or future’ (2007: 96; Campbell 2006: 144). She also rejects any notion ‘of Paul as ‘stealing’ the identity of the Jews as God’s people and transferring it to the church’ (2007: 158-59). At the same time, she emphasizes the importance of kinship language and connects it with Paul’s approach to identity formation in a manner similar to Jewish family education rather than seeing analogs within Greco-Roman education approaches (47-48). Also, her approach to gender identity is slightly less-essentialist than Campbell’s general understanding of Jewish identity (2007: 28; 2004: 97-110; Campbell 2006: 5).

In terms of the methodological debate between Philip Esler and David Horrell on the use of models, Ehrensperger aligns more closely with Horrell’s approach. She recognizes themes that emerge from her exegesis and then turns to contemporary political or social theories to which provide the language resources from which to discuss important issues relating to identity, power, and biblical studies. Thus her work does not, overtly apply social identity theory, it resonates with many of the concerns addressed by feminist, postcolonial, and social-scientific scholars.


Kathy Ehrensperger, (2007) Paul and the Dynamics of Power: Communication and Interaction in the Early Christ-Movement. London, New York: T&T Clark.

Kathy Ehrensperger, (2004) That We May Be Mutually Encouraged: Feminism and the New Perspective on Paul. London,UK, New York: T&T Clark International.

William S. Campbell, (2006) Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. London, New York: T&T Clark.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Audio Lecture: English Grammatical Concepts for NT Greek

I just finished the audio of the lesson introducing English grammatical concepts that are important for learning NT Greek. It is the same PowerPoint from yesterday but this time I am taking you through the content. I was reminded yesterday, whilst reading a comment by Mark Goodacre, that you are inviting me in to speak to you and that should impact the way I speak in these lessons. So, hopefully I will keep them energetic but within the genre of the academically oriented-podcast. Also, I've begun working with the Internet Archive and may find this useful going forward. I've uploaded the PowerPoint for this blog entry there to see the way it works. Feel free to download it but it is quite a large file.

Let me know what you think and if you have suggestions please feel free to pass them on to me. Also, if you know of some good links for NT Greek that students should check out why not post them in the comments section below. Finally, the cartoon at the beginning of this blog post is from the Common English Grammar Mistakes blog.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

English grammatical concepts for Greek

This post contains no sound but it is a fairly complete presentation on the important English concepts to understand when beginning your study of Greek. I am trying another service in search of my Greek font problem. SlideShare appears to handle Greek fonts but the sound is more difficult to manage.

Friday, September 4, 2009

New Testament Greek Writing System and Cognates

This lesson, which is part of lesson 2, covers the writing system for NT Greek and introduces the concept of cognates and their potential usefulness for vocabulary acquisition. I've also included a couple of audio readings in the presentation from the support files from Professor Kunjummen's text book.

This lecture provides readings from the genealogies in Luke and Matthew. Mark Goodacre has recently discussed these genealogies in a rather fascinating manner and I encourage you to take a few minutes and listen to those podcasts. The first one is episode 1, Matthew's Genealogy; whilst the second one is episode 10 which discusses Jesus' genealogy in Luke's gospel.

Presentation stream from the second class...

What are your thoughts about this use of technology? Is it helpful for learning Greek? Any suggestions to make it better?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Introduction to New Testament Greek: Alphabet and Sounds

Ever wonder what a first lecture in New Testament Greek might include? Well, look no further. The following is the content portion of my recent class at MTS. I recorded it after class as a way to help students review what I said or didn't say in class. It's not perfect, I still have not figured out how to edit myself (in real life and in this format). So, overlook those and other weaknesses and enjoy a nice relaxing and stimulating lesson on the Greek Alphabet and its sounds. This is the first part of the first lecture. If there is enough interest, I will publish more. So, let me know.

As it relates to my interest in identity formation. Learning Greek is an identity forming experience. One's scholarly identity is being developed and learning in the context of community provides many opportunities for ingroup/outgroup comparision, not to mention stereotyping and social categorization. Tajfel and Turner would be proud. The book I use was introduced in a previous blog entry. It is R.D. Kunjummen's New Testament Greek: A Whole Language Approach. This first part of the lecture only covers the first four pages of the book.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

R.D. Kunjummen - New Testament Greek: A Whole Language Approach

R. D. Kunjummen, one of my colleagues at MTS, recently published a Greek textbook entitled New Testament Greek: A Whole Language Approach. Well, I’m not a paid endorser but if you are looking for a great book to refresh your Greek skills that are somewhat rusty, then look no further. Professor Kunjummen provides an exegetically-oriented and linguistically-aware approach to NT Greek that will offer those who have already studied the language a refresher that will remind you why you studied Greek in the first place.

The book uses an semi-inductive approach that provides textual examples from the beginning of the work. It introduces verbless clauses quite early and thus has beginning students translating Greek from the NT by the third lesson. I’ve been using earlier forms of this material to teach Greek for the past few years and like the way that the lesson sentences reinforce the grammatical points, while the exercises reinforce previous learning and provide a way for the student to determine his or her level of apprehension of the material introduced. The book is a combination workbook and reference grammar and would be a reference work that one will go back to quite often.

The book is a little under 450 pages and is a great deal at $62. It contains the expected appendices including a cumulative vocabulary list that serves as a great way to learn or review vocabulary. The text is oriented towards those using the Greek text in the exposition of the scriptures in faith communities; however, those needing to pass Greek proficiency exams will find this work quite useful. Professor Kunjummen, my former Greek professor, has written a thorough introductory and intermediate Greek textbook that is highly recommended and should receive wide use in both undergraduate and seminary Greek courses. If you can't purchase the book from Amazon, you can purchase it directly from Michigan Theological Seminary.